Seven years ago, the Rana Plaza garment building in Bangladesh collapsed, causing the loss of over a thousand lives. The building had been constructed with substandard materials, and along with this, officials had been disregarding concerns of workers over their safety.
It was later found out that western high street brands such as Primark, Mango and Zara had all been producing garments there. This shed light on the ethical issues of fashions supply chains, and led to a wake-up call for consumers who could no longer turn a blind eye on where their clothes were actually coming from. Years on from this tragic event, how has it impacted the transparency of supply chains in the fashion industry, and how has this changed our buying behaviour as consumers?
What are supply chains?
A supply chain represents the steps a product goes through, from the sourcing of raw materials until the moment the garment arrives in store, ready for us to purchase.
In the past, supply chains have been opaque, with information on issues such as the environmental impact of the product, the use of child or slave labour in the production of the garment, and chemical wastage not being readily available for consumers to find, meaning that for years, many of us have gone without knowing the real social costs of the clothing we’ve been buying.
Fast fashion brands have notoriously non-sustainable business models. Take for example Boohoo with a number of dresses available for less than £5. These are thrown away after an average of just five weeks’ use (The Guardian, 2019).
While online fast fashion giants like Boohoo show no real signs of taking positive steps towards a more ethical supply chain, fashion labels on the most part are doing their bit to slow down and stop the irreversible effects that fast fashion has been having on our environment. High street brands such as H&M have promised to make changes, from reducing CO2 emissions to offering a clothing recycling scheme.
Within the fashion industry, emerging technologies are one key concept leading the way forward in relation to brand transparency, not only making supply chains more transparent and understandable for consumers, but also improving conditions for those working in the industry, along with trying to reduce the negative impact on our environment too.
One of the main ways that emerging technologies are radically changing supply chains is through providing transparency, one way this is being done is through giving people the ability to track and trace where their garments, and the materials used to produce them have come from, rather than people being able to turn a blind eye to the conditions that their garments have been manufactured in. (Forbes, 2018) This idea builds on the premise that if people are more informed and aware of where their garments have been sourced and made, this should cause a shift in consumer’s views, therefore leading to more brands working towards ethical supply chains in order to satisfy this need.
Consumers are further benefiting from these emerging technologies, as the development of extended reality and artificial intelligence has led to more immersive shopping experiences for consumers in store, including features such as digital screens in store and the ability to allow people to try clothes on before they’re even made.
So what can we do?
The world of fast fashion is slowly beginning to change, and we need to support the brands that are leading this change. Where possible, shop local and support smaller retailers. Of course, the Beagle Button is here to help you make these changes in your life. We’ve scoured the internet to find the most sustainable products and brands for you, and when you become a user we’ll notify you whenever we’ve found a more sustainable version of a product you’re looking at. We’re building up to a launch soon, and you can become one of the first users by signing up on our website.